Machu Picchu is a wonder that stands out among the lush green mountains of Peru. The ancient ruins tell a mysterious tale about the Inca people – a civilization that faded into obscurity centuries ago. Machu Picchu tours are unforgettable, particularly if you visit around sunset, when the colours of the day’s end paint the land with rich, warm hues.
However, as amazing as Machu Picchu is, this site isn’t the end-all and be-all of Peru. A Peru vacation can include so much more. Relax on a dazzling white sand beach in the north, explore ancient and modern history in Trujillo and in the desert, and delight your palate with an array of South American flavours.
Here are some of the specific highlights of Peru that go far beyond Machu Picchu:
Beaches, the Jungle, and Colca Canyon
Punta Sal is one of the best beaches in Peru. Unwind on the white sand, charter a boat for some deep-sea fishing, or grab a board and catch some waves. Punta Sal is in the north, close to the Ecuadorian border. Máncora, about 30 minutes south of Punta Sal, is another one of the country’s top beaches.
If you are staying in Cusco, don’t miss out on your chance to see a portion of the Amazon jungle in Puerto Maldonado. This biologically diverse ecosystem is approximately 40 minutes from the city. Keep your eyes open for wildlife, as the rainforest is home to 10 percent of the world’s known species.
To experience the rainforest in luxury, consider taking a cruise on one of the Delfin ships. You’ll experience a guided birdwatching session, gaze at majestic towering trees, surround yourself in amazing views from a canopy walkway, and delight in gourmet meals.
If you’re able to make your way south during your trip to Peru, travel to Lake Titicaca. This body of water is the highest navigable lake in the world at 3,800 meters above sea level. The Incas regarded the lake as the birthplace of their first king and queen, and you’ll enjoy gazing at the lovely water and life around it.
3-Day Lake Titicaca Stopover
Another one of the delights of Peru is Colca Canyon. Considered the deepest canyon in the world, some spots are twice as deep as the Grand Canyon in Arizona. The canyon is home to majestic condors, a rare bird species. Condors can live for several decades, and they mate for life.
4-Day Arequipa & Colca Canyon Condors
Peruvian History and Culture
Peru brims with the remnants of ancient cultures. Head to the desert to see Nazca lines, ancient geoglyphs etched into the Peruvian desert. No definitive research proves the purpose of the lines, but some researchers suggest these lines marked an ancient pilgrimage route. More than a thousand geoglyphs exist between the coast and the Andes Mountains.
2-Day Nazca Experience
While you’re in Peru, you’ll also learn about cultures that preceded the Incas. Visit the largest adobe brick city in the Americas, Chan Chan, to learn about the Chimú civilization, which existed around 900 B.C.
The Moche civilization existed before the Chimú, and they too lived in the Trujillo area. Be sure to visit the Museum of the Royal Tombs of Sipan to see the artifacts that adorned the tomb of one of the Moche’s prominent figures.
Near Machu Picchu, you’ll find Peru’s Sacred Valley, the site of an ancient Incan settlement.
Make a visit to Arequipa, a thriving city surrounded by three volcanoes. The site isn’t far from Colca Canyon, and the area has some wonders of its own, including the historic city centre where the white buildings — constructed of volcanic rock — display their blend of European, Native American, and Baroque architectural styles.
When you’re exploring Peru’s cultural sites, look for sustainable travel options and opportunities to stay overnight with local communities, such as those on the shores of Lake Titicaca. You’ll experience firsthand the wonders of the Peruvian culture and have little impact while doing so.
Don’t miss out on opportunities, such as rafting and surfing, to get your thrills in when you’re exploring Peru.
- Paraglide: The Miraflores Cliffs outside Lima are one of the most popular paragliding sites in the world. You’ll see both city and natural views that you’ll never forget.
- Hike: Huascarán National Park’s Santa Cruz Trail is a challenge, but worth the adventure. Or try mountain biking on the Inca Trail, which eventually leads to Machu Picchu. Other Inca trails let you please your inner bike fiend.
- Sand board: This sport is similar to snowboarding, but the activity happens on sand and is a thrilling experience for those who want to venture into the desert.
- Drive: Enjoy a four-wheel drive adventure on the sand dunes in the desert.
Can’t-Miss South American Culinary Offerings
Your taste buds will absolutely love Peru. Savour fine dining in the cities. For a true indulgence, head to Wayra Restaurant at the Sol y Luna Lodge & Spa or the Huayoccari Hacienda in the Sacred Valley, to delight in a five-course dinner and wine pairing. You can also get a taste of desert delights in Paracas.
If you want a more hands-on culinary adventure, take cooking lessons in Cusco or Lima. Learn to make a Pisco Sour, one of the signature drinks of South America. Satisfy your sweet tooth with lessons on cooking with chocolate in Cusco.
So Much More Than Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu, with its miles of ruins and enigmatic history, is amazing, but it won’t be the only attraction from your trip to Peru that will stay in your memory and your scrapbooks forever. The country’s natural beauty, rich culture, and culinary offerings all will contribute to the perfect Peruvian getaway.